Dorset Bookfair statement on Portfield Community Hall

The idea of a Dorset Bookfair has been around for a couple of years, waiting for a suitable venue. When we came across Portfield Community Hall in the historic town of Christchurch, it seemed to offer everything we needed at a price we could afford. Being able to hold the afterparty there was a bonus.

The day was a great success; we caught up with many old friends and made new ones, Dog Section Press summed up the mood:

“Just want to say an enormous thank you to everyone at the Dorset Radical Bookfair Collective for putting on such a great event!

It was only the first one but it felt like it had been going for years, because the sense of solidarity was palpable. Really hope you do another one next year – we’d definitely come again!”

We got so much positive feedback we immediately sought to book a date at the same venue, with a programme of events in the meantime, from film shows and discussions to self-defence workshops. We had £100 deposit on breakages, and since there were none, expected it returned within a few working days.

The management were quite elusive; when we eventually got through they refused to accept our booking citing vague complaints of noise and “criminal damage” from neighbours. We wanted the details so we could conduct our own investigation – most attendees are either personally known to the collective or part of our extended networks.

At first there was the utterly preposterous allegation that police had been called (don’t you think we would have noticed?) We had people on the door and all around the site to protect our equipment in case the fash put in an appearance. To date, neither the hirer nor licensee has been troubled by the cops.

Even more risibly it was suggested that they had interviewed residents regarding damage to these silly electioneering placards middle class people put in their gardens! – Keep in mind that Dorset police lack the resources to conduct doorstep enquiries on arson and burglary these days, after more probing, we got this:

” For your information the crime number was 55170083198

You weren’t contacted as it was felt, although the people concerned exited the building, your responsibility was to the hall, and not to peoples actions in the street, also you state it was serious, all I said was criminal damage, no one was injured and the hall paid for the damage caused. It was almost certain alcohol related and it was felt it was better for everyone if it was put down to experience and we learn from it. Hence the decision that this particular event cant be booked again past 8pm, and we are reviewing our terms and conditions. As a police response this has been logged so may in the future effect any TENS licences applications that are made.”

– Beth Richards (Our italics)

The number quoted is what police call an ‘occurrence number’, there is nothing to suggest it was logged as a crime. It gets better:

“This was the chairman decision in the first place and he was one of the local households affected on the night. I am not going to go into details of who has complained as the complaints were made to the hall, and I don’t feel this is right to pass on, but 4 complaints came in about the noise in the street.”

The Chairman is councillor Trevor Watts (Flight Refuelling trading as Cobham Mission Systems), 197 Fairmile rd, BH23 2LF. Apart from Beth Richards, the other trustees are councillor Tavis Fox (J.P. Morgan Chase) 78 Portfield Road BH23 2AQ, and Councillor Susan Spittle (unemployed) 82 Hurn Road, BH23 2RP. Cllr David Fox has been deceased since 2014, so he’s in the clear.

Giving the others the benefit of the doubt, click on this to see how far google maps says Chairman Watts house is from the hall, just under a kilometer. How the hell was his household affected on the night? Unless it was the bollocking he got from his crippled post-election Tory party for hosting a gathering of lefties, anarchists, punks and skinheads on his manor. As it goes, we had anticipated this issue; a member of Wessex Solidarity takes up the story:

“You might like to know we had been monitoring the condition of the many political placards in the area for a week or so prior to the bookfair, and consensus was that they would not be touched. It is a tribute to the extraordinary level of goodwill and trust the local group has built up with our movement that this was rigidly adhered to, regardless of alcohol consumption. In particular the one in Tavis Fox’s garden at 78 Portfield road was still intact on Monday morning. The one up by Mr Watts’ place had been got at weeks earlier (not by us).”

Most of us are indifferent to party politics, but if, in our cups, we’d wanted to vent some class anger, there’s a Bentley just round the corner in Addiscombe road. Had there been damage to one of those signs, they remain the property of the party that issues them, and have no sale value, especially with an election only 4 days away. Has this charitable trust then made a donation to the Tory party, at the instigation of Cllr Watts, or was the money simply pocketed?

Now to allegations relating to the terms of hire, Beth Richards again:

“The complaints involved people being in the garden till late, There were certainly alot (sic) of people still in the garden area till 10pm, terms and conditions state the garden must be vacated by 8pm or dusk which ever is earlier. They also complained that there was alot of people making noise in the front car park and street till at least 12.30pm. There were definitely still alot of people around then and the final people didn’t leave the hall till 1pm, an hour after your booking finished so again I cant really argue with this one.”

That is a bare-faced lie. The garden was vacated at 8pm, the Angry Workers group voluntarily undertook litter picking and at 8:10 a member of our collective witnessed the garden was immaculate and the gate had been closed, it remained closed until we left.

“We can confirm that reminded us personally at 7:45 to leave the garden, where we were sitting in a group of ten from London. We tidied the garden – professionally, as at least three of us are working as cleaners and road sweepers – and left for the train station by 8pm…

Thanks for the great event”

– Some Angry Workers

“There are any number of witnesses to the fact that the garden was empty after 8 … I was there all day from 9 in the morning till midnight, the only activity then was cleaning of the work tops and oven in the kitchen area, which obviously had to wait until the bands had eaten and the barrels had been drained and carried out.

Your fridge was a disgrace, by the way.”

– Branch Secretary: Industrial Workers of the World, Dorset General Members’ Branch.

Everything was cleaned and put away; linen was taken away and laundered. The following day we visited to fine-pick in daylight and found nothing. The site was left in better condition than we found it, especially the fridge, a bio-hazard that had to be thoroughly decontaminated before we could put our food in it.

So what have we got? A malicious e-mail to the cops, and four in-house complaints made by people who evidently didn’t witness the proceedings, resulting in ex-gratia payment to a crony, or cronies.

“Thank you to everyone involved in organising this event. We had a really good day, met with interesting people, heard fascinating talks, I even bought a book! You can count us in if you do it again next year.”

– Dorset people’s assembly

“That may be our new favourite radical bookfair! Had a great day. If anyone didn’t manage to get everything they wanted on our stall we put it all for FREE on our website. Available to download as PDF and Mobi/Epub for your kindle or other e-reader.”

– Bristol Anarchist Federation

As for the deposit, after a full calendar month of contradictory and implausible excuses, with much badgering by us and our friends, it was returned.

Sadly we can’t recommend Portfield hall, and if you’re up on the balcony, watch the handrail, it’s rotten as a pear. If someone goes over and breaks their neck, the police probably will attend.

We’ll be back!